Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro, First Take: Convenient but pricey

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With Intel cancelling some of its Atom chips, it seems less likely than ever that there will be an Atom-based Windows Mobile handset. If the Continuum option for running UWP apps from your phone on a big screen with a mouse and keyboard isn't enough for you, there's still a way of putting a PC in your pocket. The new Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro is a more powerful version of the previous ultra-small-form-factor PC from the InFocus subsidiary, with a lot more ports.

The Pro version is a Windows 10 PC with the same Cherry Trail 1.44-2.24GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8500, 2GB RAM and 32GB of flash storage as the original Kangaroo Mobile Desktop. There's a MicroSD card slot for extra storage if the 20GB (or so) of free space isn't enough, a Micro-USB port to top up the internal battery, and a fingerprint reader. The latter is very convenient if you're hooking it up to a screen and mouse to give a presentation, because you don't have to plug in a keyboard if you'd only need it for typing in your password, or if you're using it with the Kangaroo iOS app that lets you use an iPad -- and now an iPhone -- as the screen. Touch is great for controlling Windows, but can be frustrating for entering a complex password.

You get all this from a small (80.5mm x 124mm x 12.9mm) and light (418g without AC adapter and power cord) device that you could mistake for a large and chunky smartphone if it wasn't in its dock.

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The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro is a smartphone-sized Atom-based Windows 10 PC that slots into a dock offering a good range of connections.

Images: Kangaroo/Infocus

The Mobile Desktop Pro itself slots into the dock (somewhat like a baby kangaroo in its mother's pouch), which makes it a rather bigger thing to carry around -- at 171mm x 86mm x 32.2mm, more like a hefty paperback book than a phone -- and slightly heavier. The Pro is sturdy metal, while the dock is made of lighter plastic -- the heaviest things in the rather stylish packaging are actually the power supply and cable, which add 270g to the travel weight. You can get 2-4 hours of use on battery, so you don't need to carry the adapter and cable with you all the time. You can also keep it trickle-charged using the Micro-USB port, but that won't charge it if the battery is low.

The dock has space for a 2.5-inch drive inside, and includes a good set of ports: VGA as well as HDMI, so you can plug into all those older monitors and projectors, RJ-45 Ethernet for getting on a wired network (the Pro has 802.11ac built in, but not all enterprises give you full network access over wi-fi), and three USB ports (two 2.0 and one 3.0), plus a 3.5mm audio jack and the round-pin power connector.

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You can use any PC keyboard and mouse with the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro, but you do end up with a lot of cables.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The original Kangaroo only had power, USB and HDMI on its dock, which was much smaller. The Pro is a little less portable because of the extra connections, but definitely more capable. It's possibly more suited to carrying to locations where you need to use a PC, rather than leaving plugged in permanently the way you might with a 'stick'-format PC. It's also twice the price of the original: $199.99 rather than $99, which means it's competing with entry-level laptops -- and if you add a hard drive you're close to the price of some nano-format compact PCs.

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The Atom processor gives you the performance you'd expect from a mini PC -- think netbook rather than full laptop. You can drive a 4K screen, but it does slow the system down noticeably; plug into a more common full-HD (1,920 x 1,080) screen or projector and performance is more reasonable. Both wired and wireless networking are comparable to a Surface Book, which means that the slow performance we saw in the Maps app, with the map visibly painting in, is down to the Atom processor's integrated HD Graphics. You'll notice slow graphics performance if you run more demanding software like CAD packages and Photoshop -- but then, many of the smaller stick PCs struggle to run those apps at all.

Tiny PC versus Continuum on a smartphone

The idea of carrying a tiny PC around with you and plugging it into a screen, keyboard and mouse sounds rather similar to Windows 10 Mobile's Continuum feature, where you can use the same peripherals with a phone and get Universal UWP apps on-screen, with the same interface you'd see when using them on a laptop or desktop. The big difference is that as well as Universal apps, you can run standard desktop apps -- like the full version of Office, or the Chrome or Firefox browsers instead of Edge, or even games (although the Kangaroo Pro isn't up to demanding games). You can, however, use Xbox streaming to play games, which you can't do with Continuum.

Your phone will almost certainly be lighter than the Mobile Desktop Pro, but the Continuum dock, while small, is at least as heavy as the Kangaroo dock. The Mobile version of Word opens quicker on Continuum than Word on the Kangaroo, but when it comes to editing performance is very similar.

Continuum gives you a Start menu that's different from both the phone Start menu and the PC Start menu, and the way you control apps is just different enough to need getting used to. With the Kangaroo, you're getting the standard Windows 10 Start menu, and the standard Windows 10 interface. And as noted earlier, you're getting the ability to run full PC apps, including the desktop version of Office (which has a lot more features than the mobile apps) -- albeit, more slowly than on a recent laptop.

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Want to run Windows on an iPad? The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro can do that -- and you can plug it into a full keyboard, mouse and screen when you get to the office.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

To use Continuum, you need to have a screen, a keyboard and, ideally, a mouse. The Kangaroo you can just plug into an iPad via a Lightning-to-USB cable. You do need to have the free OSLinx Server software on the Kangaroo, which is not installed by default: you'll have to download it from the Kangaroo support site in advance, but it installs quickly and easily. More annoyingly, you have to pay to get the OSLinx app on an iPhone, even though it's free for the iPad.

Once installed, even an iPad mini works very well as a screen and touch surface. You can use the touch keyboard and tap your way through menus very effectively. Or you can plug in a mouse and keyboard as well as the iPad, if you have a desk to put them all on -- but you don't need to, if you just want to pull out the PC for quick access to an application.

Because it's really a remote application, you can't rotate the iPad screen: you'll have to stick to landscape, but that does work better for most desktop applications.

Conclusions

The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro will be most useful if you have multiple docks, so you can leave them where you need to use it and just carry the PC itself -- ideally with the small dock from the original Kangaroo Mobile for connecting an iPad or iPhone screen (which only needs the USB port), but even with the new, larger dock that's still a small and neat way of getting a very portable PC.

The only problem is that unless you have several Kangaroo users who can share the docks, the price does go up, so you could end up paying quite a lot for the convenience of a real PC in your pocket.

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Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro

Part Number: CNETKangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro

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